Let’s face it. Products may have improved since the last century, but product reviews and comparisons have not. Such caparisons are just so 1999. Samsung first, then Apple, and now Google have new hardware so guess what gets compared? New hardware. Just like 1999.
Two Is Company
Technology writers would have you believe that the smartphone industry is a race filled with a herd of high tech horses. Nothing could be further from the truth. If two is company, and three is a crowd, allowing Google to show up as a horse for consideration is, well, a lame consideration of the 1999 genre.
How so? Apple and Samsung, combined sell most of the smartphones on planet earth, and, likewise, both take home most of the revenue and profits and that leaves the crumbs for the likes of Google, a wannabe smartphone and gadget maker who remains what it’s always been. A search engine that sells advertising.
Here’s a perfect example of the 1999-like product comparison from Michael Simon:
While the Pixel 3 technically starts at $799, if you want the larger Pixel 3 XL with 128GB of storage, it’s going to set you back $999, $50 more than last year’s Pixel 2 XL with the same storage. That makes the Pixel the third phone so far to top a thousand bucks, following last year’s iPhone X and the Galaxy Note 9. And there will surely be more to come.
Except for the price tag and notoriety, one of these products is not the same. Samsung sells a few hundred million phones a year. Apple sells a few hundred million iPhones a year. Google? Not even a dozen million. Yet, Google’s latest and greatest gets compared as if it matters in the marketplace.
First, hardware size:
- iPhone XS Max: 157.5 x 77.4 x 7.7mm
- Galaxy Note 9: 161.9 x 76.4 x 8.8mm
- Pixel 3 XL: 158 x 76.7 x 7.9mm
We’re talking millimeters of difference here. Does it matter? Apparently:
Even with less screen than the iPhone XS Max, the Pixel 3 XL is a touch taller due to a pretty large chin. It’s also a hair thicker than the iPhone XS Max but for the most part, the two phones are very similar, with the iPhone getting the edge due to its edge-to-edge design.
How about the display differences? Not much, even in the highly valued pixel-per-inch category which is so dense you’ll never know which display is which. If not, why does it matter?
- iPhone XS Max: 6.5-inch OLED, 1242 x 2688, 458 ppi
- Galaxy Note 9: 6.4-inch OLED, 1440 x 2960, 516ppi
- Pixel 3 XL: 6.3-inch OLED, 1440 x 2960, 523ppi
We’re still stuck in hardware as a differentiator? Just like 1999. Why? Hardware comparisons are easy. Definitive considerations of usage, Total Cost of Ownership, resale value, et al– those take time. All three have world class cameras. What about those?
Surprisingly, none of the flagship phones here did much to upgrade the hardware in the cameras this year
That’s because the camera in a smartphone is all about the smartphone’s smarts, and that’s software, and even the photo and video results of premium smartphones look much the same to average owners.
While the dual-camera arrays on the iPhone XS Max and Note 9 are very similar, you’ll notice that the Pixel 3 XL is still rocking a single lens on the back. But don’t count it out. Google’s processing is the best in its field, and it still offers an array of features to match the iPhone XS and Note 9, including portrait mode, Super Res Zoom, and Night Sight.
All considered without actually comparing photos or videos from the so-called flagship camera phones, right?
So, without any real comparisons to compare, let’s go back to comparing useless hardware specifications.
- iPhone XS Max: Dual 12MP wide-angle (f/1.8) and telephoto cameras (f/2.4), dual optical image stabilization, 2x optical zoom
- Galaxy Note 9: Dual 12MP wide-angle (f/1.5-2.4) and telephoto cameras (f/2.4), dual optical image stabilization, 2x optical zoom
- Pixel 3 XL: 12.2MP, f/1.8
Does that not make you want to run out and buy… something? Soon? Someday?
I get it. Hardware is important, but most of us don’t think about the hardware when we’re using our iPhones or Galaxy-whatevers. We use software. Even the camera has reached peak hardware. For now. Those photos and videos that are so good are made by software, not dramatic advancements in hardware.
One needs to ask why Google’s new Pixel 3 models are included in a head-to-head with the two best-selling smartphone brands, Apple and Samsung? It’s because technology comparisons need something to compare, and hardware is just easier to compare than the aforementioned usability and capabilities that go beyond the device itself and into the ownership and value range.
Product comparisons have become so 1999.